e-Learning is not an event, it’s a stage on a journey


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How many times have you encountered a business problem and turned to e-learning to solve it? There’s no denying the merits of online training, particularly in these days of rapid change and technological progress.

However, perhaps we have come to rely on e-learning too heavily. Flexible and convenient it may be, but it is not always the solution to every business need. Indeed, the instinct to throw e-learning at every problem, without considering its suitability, ultimately reduces its effectiveness.

In this article Phil Green, industry expert and managing director of Optimum Learning Ltd., explores how managers can ensure that they use e-learning to its full potential. Drawing an enlightening parallel between learning and travelling, he considers how careful planning and preparation can help to ensure a smooth journey and a timely arrival at the desired destination.

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e-Learning is not an event, it’s a stage on a journey

  1. 1. e-Learning is not an event, it’s a stage 22 on a journey. Phil Green “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the Cat. “...so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”1 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 1
  2. 2. We often speak of voyages of discovery, and indeed unpredictable factors – a late train, a fellow justifications too. The argument put forward for e-learning often centres on its apparent flexibility, its it is not hard to draw parallels between the traveller passenger suffering travel sickness, fears of Martini-like claim to be suitable “any time, any place, anywhere,” or its capacity to offer learners a choice and the learner. flying or drowning, and so on. of learning routes with different entry or exit points, a distinctive style and preference options. However, in the past, providers have not always been very good at matching e-learning courses to learners’ attributes, Some people travel for business or necessity; others Some people prefer to travel alone, others which may in turn explain why, in line with successive approximation (which advocates trial and error, for escape, discovery or pleasure. Some delight with companions. Some drive, others must achieving incremental improvements each time), the best training is often considered to be the most in mystery tours, even though they run the risk minimal in terms of time and content, or, in other words, little and often. of covering old ground; for others it is the very the best training is familiarity of old ground that holds the attraction. often considered to Likewise, many managers are tempted to throw training at all problems instead of dealing with the root Some depend upon a travel agent to help guide be the most minimal causes and there are too many unrealistic hopes and expectations of training. BF Skinner noted a common their choice of destination and plan for the richest in terms of time and trait among managers which he called ‘superstitious behaviour’ – a belief that because something worked experience of sights and sounds upon the way; content, or, in other once, it might just work again.2 Such superstitious behaviour may be the motivation behind managers others make do with a map or guide and a phrase sending people on training courses so easily, and behind the determination of e-learning advocates to words, little and often book to overcome cultural and language barriers at squeeze all learning out of a screen. Although there are times when it would be improper to refuse training, more exotic destinations. be driven. Some travel quickly, others more sometimes refusing it is the right thing to do; only when you are realistic about what training can and leisurely. Some journeys are short and cannot accomplish do you make the right decisions at the right time and ensure that your limited training Some check itineraries and tickets, making certain uneventful; others may be grand affairs budget is spent wisely. their passports are valid; others go ill-prepared, lose incorporating a variety of transport modes. their way or check in too soon and suffer a long So how can we ensure that e-learning delivers its potential and follows through on its promises? Let’s consider and frustrating delay; yet others arrive so late that All these statements can be applied to learners the leader who looks out of the window, surveys the entire situation, and says “We’re on the wrong train!” they run the risk of missing their plane. Some carry as well as travellers, regardless of the method and his colleagues, the efficient producers and busy managers who respond with “Shut up! We’re making too much baggage and so find it hard to maintain a or medium. Let’s now let’s turn our thoughts to progress!” The leader is following Stephen Covey’s advice to begin with the end in mind, advice based on brisk pace; others pack too little and soon feel the training itself and, in particular, e-learning. the principle that all things are created twice – first mentally and then physically.3 The mental rehearsal is lack of some essential. Indeed, not all journeys are a key part of the process of planning for the success of the physical end creation, yet is frequently missing problem-free. Even the best-prepared traveller can There are many good justifications for where training is concerned. This lack of planning and forethought results in the continued production of suffer delays or discomfort caused by external and training and development, but there are poor costly solutions, without sufficient attempt to make sure they’re the right solutions. 2 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 3
  3. 3. In a perfect world, organisations would be stable and predictable, and we would have no need to So how can training tackle this and help people deal with the challenges of their ever-changing worry too much about training; we might choose to foster employee development but it would not be jobs? Of course, training cannot magically transform ineffective employees, supervisors or vital to the success of the organisation. But we don’t live in a perfect world! You probably need only managers into effective ones, it is unlikely to resolve all the causes of poor performance, and it look around your workplace to see evidence of that. Perhaps your company has experienced growth, will not fix problems that stem from poor structuring of work, unclear responsibilities or other ‘right-sizing’, re-structuring, new systems or working practices, increased workloads, flattening of organisational dysfunction. But it can adjust people’s perceptions of the boundaries of their management structure or other changes. The only thing we can be certain about for the future is the role and help them develop the inevitability of change. new skills they require to meet adjust people’s expectations. It can also help perceptions of the Indeed, the rapid advance of technology, the rise of social networking and the adoption of new to build a shared vision and boundaries of their management techniques to support different organisational theories all mean that change is happening understanding of the organisation’s role and help them so fast that, to paraphrase the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass, we are having to run mission; to show how management develop the new skills ever faster just to stay in the same place.4 As the world of work changes, we find ourselves confronted values employees; to demonstrate they require to meet with a constant performance gap; we need to develop fresh skills, renewed determination and new commitment and loyalty; and to expectations knowledge and concepts to achieve our business and personal goals. develop people so they can assume greater responsibility and increase their contribution to the organisation’s success. as the world of work This requirement to be both multi-skilled and changes, we find prepared to develop laterally applies to everybody Some people maintain that the majority of formal and structured learning experiences bring ourselves confronted in the workplace. Managers must drive flatter virtually no practical benefit to an organisation, or even to the individuals who take part. organisations, deliver total quality and support Reasons for this may include poorly implemented training, learning which is ill-matched to with a constant empowerment: today’s tasks necessitate skills needs, or a lack of support or opportunity to apply the learning. Furthermore, much training performance gap which are radically different from those required of and learning is not thought through, meaning that, rather than a journey, the experience is little managers in the past. Similarly, an administrative assistant may have been employed for their ability to more than a diversion. As training budgets are rarely elastic, organisations must ensure their type, answer the phone and file, but may now need to deal with customer problems, coach colleagues investments in learning yield a return. It is by increasing personal and corporate effectiveness and analyse and improve their own working practices. Technology constantly drives change in the that such return is measured. Learning may be the journey, but the intended destination is a workplace, management styles are continuously evolving, and employees are increasingly called upon link between training and real accomplishments (an accomplishment being something that gets to pass on knowledge and share their expertise. Not many people possess ready-made skills and done, as opposed to a competency – something that people can do – or behaviour – something attitudes to meet these challenges. that people do do). 4 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 5
  4. 4. As we have already considered, training is a management tool and, just as you can’t drive home a screw with a hammer, it’s not always the only or right tool for the job. Similarly, a solid foundation is important: if you try to use a saw without a vice or a workbench, the chances are you might cause a serious injury; training is a management if managers expect measured improvement after tool and, just as you training, they must provide the necessary support can’t drive home a screw and take care of associated problems that can’t with a hammer, it’s not be tackled with training. This characteristic failure always the only or right Phil Green has spent many years working within some of Europe’s major organisations such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, among many UK managers to play their part in the tool for the job Nestlé, Lloyds TSB, Avis, Unum and Marks & Spencer. planning, preparation and follow-up means that As a consultant he has devised countless winning solutions training often does not deliver on its potential to add value to the business. Resources are frittered away, to help highly successful organisations such as these to training fails to meet expectations and is seen as costly, meaning that training budgets are first to be cut in remain at the top of their performance. times of economic hardship. He is a tutor and course designer for The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and manages online tutoring for many of the CIPD’s Advanced Certificate courses. Training is not a miracle cure, but a lever to move someone towards those real outcomes. It works best where there is a strong link between individual and organisational needs and where bars to learning and Managing Director of Chesterfield-based Optimum Learning Ltd, he is an expert analyst and instructional designer and is factors hindering performance have been eliminated. It is the involvement, endorsement, sponsorship and a recent Past Chairman of the E-Learning Network. encouragement of managers, and the perspicacity of training providers in applying the right method and Much published, Phil is a frequent presenter and track chair media, that make the difference between training that is just a brief excursion and training that really brings at major conferences and was named in 2007 as one of about significant results and gets the learner from A to B. the world’s 100 best trainers by the American publisher Pfeiffer. 1 Carroll, L, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865. Phil can be contacted at optimum@live.co.uk 2 Skinner, BF, ‘Superstition’ in the Pigeon, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 1948, pp.168-172. 3 Covey, Stephen R, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989. 4 Carroll, L, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871. 6 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2008 7
  5. 5. www.saffroninteractive.com Grays Inn House 127 Clerkenwell Road London EC1R 5DB Design by Jenni Grove t: 020 7092 8900 ISSN: 1748-7633 1478-7641 © 2008 Saffron Interactive f: 020 7242 2757 All rights reserved e: info@saffroninteractive.com